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GRAVITY MYSTERIES Silly questions lead to surprising answers about the fundamental nature of the universe. We might have been getting it wrong this whole time. Symmetry has been one of the guiding principles in physicists’ search for fundamental laws of nature. What does it mean that laws of nature have symmetry? It means that laws look the same before and after an operation, similar to a mirror reflection, the same but right is now left in the reflection. Physicists have been looking for laws that explain both the microscopic world of elementary particles and the macroscopic world of the universe and the Big Bang at its beginning, expecting that such fundamental laws should have symmetry in all circumstances. However, last year, two physicists found a theoretical proof that, at the most fundamental level, nature does not respect symmetry.

HOW DID THEY DO IT? GRAVITY AND HOLOGRAM.

There are four fundamental forces in the physical world: electromagnetism, strong force, weak force, and gravity. Gravity is the only force still unexplainable at the quantum level. Its effects on big objects, such as planets or stars, are relatively easy to see, but things get complicated when one tries to understand gravity in the small world of elementary particles. To try to understand gravity on the quantum level, Hirosi Ooguri, the director of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe in Tokyo, and Daniel Harlow, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, started with the holographic princi-

ple. This principle explains three-dimensional phenomena influenced by gravity on a two-dimensional flat space that is not influenced by gravity. This is not a real representation of our universe, but it is close enough to help researchers study its basic aspects. The pair then showed how quantum error correcting codes, which explain how three-dimensional gravitational phenomena pop out from two dimensions, like holograms, are not compatible with any symmetry; meaning such symmetry cannot be possible in quantum gravity. They published their conclusion in 2019, garnering high praise from journal editors and significant media attention. But how did such an idea come to be?

ASIA RESEA RC H NE WS

Hirosi Ooguri, director of Kavli IPMU, explains how he and his collaborator theoretically proved that nature has no symmetry when quantum gravity is considered.

202 0 Credit: Kavli IPMU

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Further information

Principal Investigator Hirosi Ooguri | E-mail: press@ipmu.jp Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe University of Tokyo

Profile for Asia Research News

Asia Research News 2020  

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